Letter to A Young Man Wishing to be An American

by Robert Grant

I.

I wrote this once as a definition of Americanism: "It seems to me to be, first of all, a consciousness of unfettered individuality coupled with a determination to make the most of self." In short, a compound of independence and energy. To you, in the earnest temper of mind which your letter of inquiry suggests, this definition may seem a generality of not much practical value; declarative of essential truth, yet only vaguely helpful to the individual. Yet I offer it as a starting-point of doctrine, for to my thinking the people of the United States who have impressed themselves most notably on the world have possessed these two traits, independence and energy, in marked degree. And to you, whatever your condition in life, if you consider, it must be apparent that manly self-respect and enterprising force are essential to character and good citizenship, and that the prominence accorded to these qualities by those who have analyzed the component parts of our nationality is a distinction which should be perpetuated and reinforced by succeeding generations.

Nevertheless, the counsel seems to approximate a glittering generality for the reason that the opportunities for acting upon it no longer sprout on every bush as in the forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies of the present century when we were a budding nation and much of our territory was still virgin soil. I write "seems to approximate" advisedly, for the opportunities are just as plenty, merely less obvious. Yet here again I must make this qualification—one which recalls doubtless the favorite aphorism employed to meet the plea that the legal profession is over-crowded—that there is always an abundance of room on the top benches. Indisputably the day has passed when the ambitious and enterprising American youth could have fruit from the tree of material fortune almost by stretching out his hand. Now he has to climb far, and the process is likely to be slow and discouraging. The conditions peculiar to a sparse population in a new country rich in resources have almost ceased to exist, and, though a young nation still, we are face to face with the problems which concern a seething civilization where almost every calling seems full. Now and again some lucky seeker for fortune still finds it in a brief twelve-month, but for the mass of American young men the opportunities for speedy, dazzling prosperity have ceased to exist. Those who win the prizes of life among us nowadays owe their success, in all but sporadic cases, to unusual talents, tireless zeal and unremitting labor, almost as in England, and France, and Germany. So also, with the passing of the period when enterprise and ambition were whetted by the promise of sudden and vast rewards, have disappeared many of the traits, both external and psychological, which were characteristic of our early nationality. The buffalo is nearly extinct, and with him is vanishing much of the bluff, graceless assertiveness of demeanor which was once deemed essential by most citizens to the display of native independence. Our point of view has changed, broadened, evolved in so many ways that it were futile to do more than indicate by a general description what is so obvious. Partly by the engrafting and adoption of foreign ideas and customs, partly by the growth among us of new conditions beyond the simple ken of our forefathers, our national life has become both complex and cosmopolitan. If we, who were once prone to believe our knowledge, our manners, and our customs to be all-sufficient, have been borrowing from others, so we in our turn have been imitated by the older nations of Europe, and the result is an approximation in sympathies and a blurring of distinctions. Political  differences and race superficialities of expression seem a larger barrier than they really are, for in its broader faiths and vision the civilized world is becoming homogeneous. The ocean cable and the facilities for travel have palsied insular prejudice and lifted the embargo on the free interchange of ideas. The educated American sees no resemblance to himself in the caricatures of twenty-five years ago, and rejoices in the consciousness that the best men the world over are essentially alike. This, perhaps, is only another way of reasserting that human nature is always human nature, but this old apothegm has a clearer significance to-day than ever before.

Yet the opportunities for the display of enterprise and independence remain none the less distinct because we are becoming a cosmopolitan community and the old spectacular flavor has been kneaded out of the national life. Much of our free soil has been appropriated by an army of emigrants from Europe, and in connection with this fact the saying is rife that every foreigner seems infused with a new dignity from the moment that he becomes an American. This may be bathos in individual cases, yet it is the offspring of truth. Still it remains equally true that we have an enormous foreign population whose ideas and standards are those which they brought with them. Proud as these men and women may be of their new nationality, and eager as they may be to aid in the promotion of good citizenship, their very existence here in large numbers has altered the conditions of the problem of Americanism. The problem involved is no longer that of the winning of a new land by a free, spirited people under a republican form of government, but the larger equation of the evolution of the human race. Americanism to-day stands in a sense more accurate than before as the experiment of government of the people, for the people, and by the people, and for the most complete amalgamation of the blood of Christendom which the human race has ever known. We have lately been celebrating our centennial anniversaries. Already the great figures of our early history seem remote. The struggle with which we are concerned is more intense and broader than theirs: It is the progress of human society. You, whom I am addressing, find yourself a unit in a vast, heterogeneous population and a complex civilization. You live in the midst of the most modern aspirations and appliances, and cheek by jowl with the joy and sorrow, the comfort and distress, the virtue and vice of a great democracy. Your birthright of independence and energy finds itself facing essentially the same perplexities as those which confront the inhabitants of other civilizations where the tide of existence runs strong and exuberant. If our nationality is to be of value to the world, Americanism must stand henceforth for a rectification of old theories concerning, and an application of fresh vitality to the entire problem of human living.

Love of country should be a part of the creed both of him who counsels and him who listens, yet I deem it my duty, considering the nature of our topic, to suggest that there are not a few in the world, foreigners chiefly, who would be disposed to answer your inquiry how best to be an American, by citing Punch's advice to persons about to marry, "don't!" It does credit to your love of country that you have assumed a true American to be a consummation devoutly to be emulated. Humility on this subject has certainly never been a national trait, and I cannot subscribe to any such doubt myself. But yet again let me indicate that across the water the point is at least mooted whether the seeker for perfect truth would not be nearer success if incarnated under almost any other civilized name. Let me hasten to add that I believe this to be due to national prejudice, envy, and lack of intelligent discrimination, especially the latter, in that the foreigner is mistaken as to the identity of the true American. It behooves you therefore to ascertain carefully who the true American is, for even my defence seems to hint at the suggestion that all Americans are not equally admirable. Forty years ago an intimation that all Americans were not the moral and intellectual, to say nothing of the physical, superiors of any Englishman, Frenchman, German or Italian alive would have subjected a writer to beetling criticism; but, as I have already intimated, we have learned a thing or two since then. And it is not a little thing to have discovered that,  though their hearts were right and their intentions good, our forefathers were not so abnormally virtuous and wise as to entitle them or us to an exclusive and proscriptive patent of superiority. We glory in them, but while we revere them as the fosterers and perpetuators of that fine, energetic, high-minded, probing spirit which we call the touch-stone of Americanism, we are prepared, with some reluctance, yet frankly, when cornered, to admit that they did not possess a monopoly of righteousness or knowledge.

I shall assume, then, that you, in common with other citizens, have reached this rationally patriotic point of view and are willing to agree that we are not, as a nation, above criticism. If you are still inclined to regard us, the plain people of these United States, as a mighty phalanx of Sir Galahads in search of the Holy Grail, the citation of a few facts may act aperiently on your mind and wash away the cobwebs of hallucination. For instance, to begin from the political standpoint, our acquirement of Texas and other territory once belonging to Mexico suggests the predatory methods of the Middle Ages rather than an aspiring and sensitive national public temper. The government of our large cities has from time to time been so notoriously corrupt as to indicate at least an easy-going, shiftless, civic spirit in the average free-born municipal voter. It is a matter of common knowledge that in the legislative bodies of all our States there is a certain number of members whose action in support of or against measures is controlled by money bribes. From the point of view of morals, statistics show that poverty and crime, drunkenness and licentiousness in our large cities are little less rife than in the great capitals of Europe; and you have merely to read the newspapers to satisfy yourself that individuals from the population of the small towns and of the country districts from the eastern limit of Maine to the southwestern coast of California are capable of monstrous murders, rank thefts, and a sensational variety of ordinary human vices. It were easy to illustrate further, but this should convince you that the patriotic enthusiast who would prove the people of the United States to be a cohort of angels of light has verily a task compared with which the labors of Sisyphus and other victims of impossibility fade into ease. Even our public schools, that favorite emblem of our omniscience, have been declared by authority to merit interest, but by no means grovelling admiration, on the part of the effete peoples of Europe.

We will proceed then on the understanding that, whatever its past, the present civilization of the United States reveals the every-day human being in his or her infinite variety, and that the true American must grasp this fact in order to fulfil his destiny. If our nation is to be a lamp to the civilized world, it will be because we prove with time that poor human nature, by virtue of the leaven called Americanism, has reached a higher plane of intelligent virtue and happiness than the world has hitherto attained. Who then is the true American? And what are the signs which give us hope that the people of the United States are capable of accomplishing this result? What, too, are the signs which induce our censors and critics to shake their heads and refuse to acknowledge the probability of it?

II

I will begin with the inverse process and indicate a list of those who are not true Americans, and yet who are so familiar types in our national community that the burden of proof is on the patriot to show that they are not essentially representative.

No. 1. The Plutocratic Gentleman of Leisure who Amuses Himself.—Here we have a deliberate imitation of a well-known figure of the older civilizations. The grandfather by superior ability, industry, and enterprise has accumulated a vast fortune. His grand-children, nurtured with care, spend their golden youth in mere extravagant amusement and often in dissipation. There are many individuals in our so-called leisure class who devote their lives to intelligent and useful occupation, but there is every reason for asserting that the point of view of the child of fortune in this country is significantly that of the idler—and a more deplorable idler than he of the aristocracies of Europe whom he models himself on, for the reason that the foreigner is less indifferent than he to intellectual interests.  Is there any body of people in the world more contemptible, and anybody among us more useless as an inspiring product of Americanism, than the pleasure-seeking, unpatriotic element of the very rich who, under the caption of our best society, arrogate social distinction by reason of their vulgar ostentation of wealth, their extravagant methods of entertainment and their aimless pleasure-loving lives? To vie with each other in lavish outlay, to visit Europe with frequency, to possess steam-yachts, to bribe custom-house officers, to sneer at our institutions and, save by an occasional check, to ignore all the duties of citizenship, is an off-handed epitome of their existence. And in it all they are merely copy-cats—servile followers of the aristocratic creed, but without the genuine prestige of the old-time nobilities. And in the same breath let me not forget the women.

(Note.—"I was afraid you were going to," said my wife, Josephine. "Women count for so much here, and yet their heads seem to become hopelessly turned as soon as they are multi-millionnaires.")

Women indeed count for much here, and yet it is they even more than the men who are responsible for and encourage the mere pleasure-loving life among the leisure class. A ceaseless round of every variety of money-consuming, vapid amusement occupies their days and nights from January to January, and for what purpose? To marry their daughters to foreign noblemen? To breed scandal by pursuing intimacies with other men than their husbands? To demonstrate that the American woman, when she has all the opportunities which health, wealth, and leisure can bestow, is content to become a mere quick-witted, shallow voluptuary?

You will be told that these people are very inconsiderable in number, that they really exercise a small influence, and that one is not to judge the men and women of the United States by them. It is true that they are not very numerous, though their number seems to be increasing, and I am fain to believe that they are not merely out of sympathy with, but alien in character to, the American people as a whole; and yet I cannot see why an unfriendly critic should not claim that they are representative, for they are the lineal descendants of the men from every part of the land who have been the most successful in the accumulation of wealth. Their grandfathers were the pioneers whose brains and sinews were stronger than their fellows in the struggle of nation-building; their fathers were the keenest and not presumptively the most dishonest men of affairs in the country. Not only this; but though the plain people of the nation affect to reprobate this class as un-American and evil, yet the newspapers, who aim to be the exponents of the opinions of the general mass and to cater to their preferences, are constantly setting forth the doings of the so-called multi-millionnaires and their associates with a journalistic gusto and redundancy which reveals an absorbing interest and satisfaction in their concerns on the part of the everyday public.

Undeniably there are no laws which prohibit the wealthy from squandering their riches in futile extravagance and wasting their time in empty frivolities, nor is our leisure class peculiar in this when compared with the corresponding class in other countries, unless it be in a more manifest bent toward civic imbecility. But, from the point of view of human progress, is it not rather discouraging that the most financially prosperous should aspire merely to mimic and outdo the follies of courts, the heartless levity and extravagance of which have been among the instigators of popular revolution? Surely, if this is the best Americanism, if this is what democracy proffers as the flower of its crown of success, it were more satisfactory to the sensitive citizen to owe allegiance to some country where the pretensions to omniscient soul superiority were more commensurate with the results produced.

No. 2. The Easy-going Hypocrite.—Here is another slip from the tree of human nature, which flourishes on this soil with a sturdy growth. A large section of the American people has been talking for buncombe, not merely since years ago the member of Congress from North Carolina naļvely admitted that his remarks were uttered solely for the edification of the town of that name, and so supplied a descriptive phrase for the habit, but from the outset of our national responsibilities. To talk for effect with the thinly concealed purpose of deceiving a part of the American  people all of the time has been and continues to be a favorite practice with many of the politicians of the country. Yet this public trick of proclaiming sentiments and opinions with the tongue in the cheek is the conspicuous surface-symptom of a larger vice which is fitly described as hypocrisy. There is a way of looking at this accusation which deprives it of part of its sting, yet leaves us in a predicament not very complimentary to our boasted sense of humor. It is that the free-born American citizen means so well that he is habitually dazzled by his own predilections toward righteousness into utterances which he as a frail mortal cannot hope to live up to, and consequently that he is prone to express himself in terms which none but the unsophisticated are expected to believe. In other words, that he is an unconscious hypocrite. However harmless this idiosyncrasy may have been as a preliminary trick of expression, there is no room for doubt that the plea of unconsciousness must cease to satisfy the most indulgent moral philosopher after a very short time. Yet we have persevered in the practice astonishingly, until it may be said that hyperbole is the favorite form of public utterance on almost any subject among a large class of individuals, in the expectation that only a certain percentage will not understand that the speaker or writer is not strictly in earnest. In this manner the virtuous and the patriotic are enabled to give free vent to their emotions and to set their fellow-citizens and themselves highest among the people of the earth without other expenditure than words, resolutions, or empty laws. The process gently titillates the self-esteem of the performer so that he almost persuades himself for the time being that he believes what he is saying: He appreciates that his hearers like better to have their hopes rehearsed as realities at the expense of veracity than to be reminded of imperfections at the expense of pride: And he rejoices in those whom he has fooled into believing that their hopes have been realized, and that all the virtue which he tremendously stands for is part and parcel of the national equipment. Under the insidious influence of this mode of enlightenment the everyday keen American citizen goes about with his head in the air, knowing in his secret heart that one-half of what he hears from the lips of those who represent him in public is buncombe, but content with the shadow for the substance, and wearing a chip on his shoulder as a warning to those who would assert that we are not really as virtuous and as noble as our spokesmen have declared.

For instance, to return to the concrete, consider the plight of a police commissioner in most of our large cities. Those interested in the suppression of vice appear before the legislature and urge the maintenance of a vigorous policy. Acts are passed by the law-makers manifesting the intention of the community to wage vigorous war against the social evil and the sale of liquor, and prescribing unequivocal regulations. The appointing power is urged to select a strong man to enforce these laws. Supposing he does, what follows? Murmurs and contemptuous abuse. Murmurs from what is known as the hard-headed, common-sense portion of the community, who complain that the strong man entrusted with authority does not show tact; that what was expected of him was judicious surface enforcement of the law sufficient to beguile reformers and cranks, and give a semblance of improvement, not strict, literal compliance. They will tell you that the social evil can no more be suppressed than water can be prevented from running down hill, and that the explicit language of the statutes was framed for the benefit of clergymen, and that no one else with common sense supposed it would be enforced to the letter by any intelligent official. The very legislators who voted to pass the laws will shrug their shoulders rancorously and confide to you the same thing; yet in another breath assert to their constituents that they have fought the fight in defence of white-robed chastity and the sacred sanctity of the home.

Now, is this Americanism, the very best Americanism? Surely not. It has an Anglo-Saxon flavor about it which it is easy to recognize as foreign and imported. Englishmen have been asserting for centuries that they were fighting the fight in defence of white-robed chastity and the sanctity of the home, to the amusement of the rest of the world, for in spite of the fact that the laws demand a vigorous policy and the British matron and the Sunday-school  Unions declare that the home is safe, those familiar with facts know that London is one of the most disgustingly impure cities in the world, and that the youth let loose upon its streets is in very much the same predicament as Daniel in the den of lions, without the same certainty of rescue. And why? Because the hard-headed, common-sense British public sanctions hypocrisy. They tell you that they are doing their utmost to crush the evil. This is for the marines, the British matron, and the Sunday-school Unions. But let a strong man attempt to banish from the streets the shoals of women of loose character, and what an unmistakable murmur would arise. How long would he remain in office?

It may be that the social evil can no more be suppressed than water can be prevented from running down hill. That is neither here nor there for the purposes of this illustration. But to demand the passage of laws, and then to abuse and undermine the influence of those who try to enforce them is a vice more subversive to national character than the fault of Mary Magdalene and her unpenitent successors, both male and female.

Take, again, our custom-house regulations concerning persons returning home from abroad. The law demands a certain tariff, yet it is notorious that a large number of so-called respectable people are able to procure free entry for their effects by bribes to the subordinates. And why? Because those who passed the law devised it to cajole a certain portion of the community; but those charged with the enforcement of it, in deference to its unpopularity, are expected to make matters at the port smooth for travellers with easy-going consciences. Hence the continued existence at the New York Custom-house of the shameless bribe-taker in all his disgusting variety. Authority from time to time puts on a semblance of integrity and discipline, but the home-comer continues to gloat over the old story of double deceit, his own and another's. Is this the best Americanism? Yet these are American citizens who offer the bribe, who pocket it, and who allow the abuse to exist by solemnly or good-naturedly ignoring it. Consider the diversity of our divorce laws. It is indeed true that opinions differ as to what are and what are not suitable grounds for divorce, so that uniformity of legislation in the different States is difficult of attainment; yet there is reason to believe that progress toward this would be swifter were it not for the convenience of the present system which allows men and women who profess orthodoxy a loop-hole of escape to a less rigorous jurisdiction when the occasion arises. Similarly, in the case of corporation laws, it is noticeable that not far removed from those communities where paid-up capital stock and other assurances of good faith are required from incorporators, some State is to be found where none of these restrictions exist. Thus an appearance of virtue is preserved, self-consciousness of virtue flattered, a certain number deluded, and yet all the conveniences and privileges of a hard-headed, easy-going civilization are kept within reaching distance.

No. 3. The Worshipper of False Gods.—It is a commonplace of foreign criticism that the free-born American is insatiate for money, and that everything else pales into insignificance before the diameter of the mighty dollar. That is the favorite taunt of those who do not admire our institutions and behavior, and the favorite note of warning of those who would fain think well of us. No one can deny that the influence and power of money in this country during the last thirty years have been enormous. One reason for this is obvious. The magnificent resources of a huge territory have been developed during that period. Men have grown rich in a night, and huge fortunes have been accumulated with a rapidity adapted not merely to dazzle and stir to envy other nations, but to turn the heads of our own people. We have become one of the wealthiest civilizations, and our multi-millionnaires are among the money magnates of the world. Yet popular sentiment in public utterance affects to despise money, and inclines to abuse those who possess it. I write "affects," for here again the point of hypocrisy recurs to mind, and even you very likely would be prompt to remind me that, according to our vernacular, to make one's pile and make it quickly is a wide-spread touch-stone of ambition. True enough it is that there has been, and is, room for reproach in the aggressiveness of this tendency,  and yet the seeming hypocrisy is once more unconscious in that the popular point of view intends to be sincere, but the situation has been too dazzling for sober brains and high resolves. For let it be said that keenness of vision and a capacity for escaping from the trammels of conventional and inveterate delusions are essentially American traits, and as a consequence no one more clearly than the American citizen appreciates the importance of material resources as a factor of happy living, and none so definitely as he refuses to be discouraged by the priestly creed that only a few can be comfortable and happy in this life and that the poor and miserable will be recompensed hereafter for their earthly travails. His doctrine is that he desires, if possible, to be one of that comfortable and happy few, and in the exuberance of his consciousness that human life is absorbing, he fortifies the capacity to make the most of it by the quaint, convincing statement that we shall be a long time dead. His quick-witted, intelligent repugnance to the old theory that the mass should be cajoled into dispensing with earthly comforts has helped to give a humorous, material twist to his words; and yet, I venture to assert, has left his finer instincts unperverted, except in the case of the individual. This combination of an extraordinary opportunity and a shrewd intelligence has, however, it must be admitted, produced a considerable and sorry crop of these individuals guided by the principle that wealth is the highest good, and should be sought at the expense of every scruple. Their many successes in the accomplishment of this single purpose have served to create the impression that the whole nation is thus diseased, and have done the greater harm of dwarfing many an aspiring nature, spell-bound by the cloud-capped towers and gorgeous palaces which sheer money-making has established. As a result the best Americanism is menaced both by the example of accumulation without conscience, and the dangerous public atmosphere which this generates, in that the common eye is caught by the brilliance of the spectacle, and the common mind lured to meditate imitation at every sacrifice. So they say of us that the American hero is the man of material successes, "the smart man" who "gets there" by hook or crook, and that we are content to ask no embarrassing questions as to ways and means, provided the pecuniary evidences of attainment are indisputable. The patriotic American resents this as a libel, and maintains that this type of hero-worship is but a surface indication of the public soul, just as the horrors of the divorce court are but a surface indication of the general conditions of married life. Yet the patriot must admit that there is danger to the noble aspirations which we claim to cherish as Americans from the bright, keen, easy-going, metallic, practical, hard-headed, humorous citizen, male and female, whose aim is simply to push ahead, at any cost, and who in the process does not hesitate to part with his spiritual properties as being cumbersome, unremunerative and somewhat ridiculous. The materialist is no new figure in human civilization. "Eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die," is but the ancient synonyme for "we shall be a long time dead." A deep, abiding faith in the serious purposes of humanity has ever been obvious to us Americans as a national possession, however foreigners may deny it to us, but the American nature is at the same time, as I have suggested, essentially practical, level-headed, and inquiring, and is ever ready with a shrewd jest to dispute the sway of traditions founded on cant or out-worn ideas. It behooves you then, if you would be a true American, to beware overstepping the limit which separates aspiring, intelligent, winsome common-sense from the philosophy of mere materialism. There lies one of the great perils of democracy; and unless the development of democracy be toward higher spiritual experiences, Americanism must prove a failure. Keen enjoyment of living is a noble thing, so too is the ambition to overcome material circumstances, and to command the fruits of the earth. A realization of the possibility of this, and an emancipation from dogmas which foreordained him to despair, has evolved the alert, independent, progressive American citizen, and side by side with him the individual whom the less enlightened portion of the community have enshrined in their hearts under the caption of a smart man. This popular hero, with his taking guise of easy-going good  nature, assuring his admirers by way of flippant disposition of the claims of conscience and aspiration that "it will be all the same a hundred years hence" is the kind of American whom every patriot should seek to discredit and avoid imitating.

III

The foregoing suggestions will suffice, I think, to demonstrate to you that we are not uniformly a nation of Sir Galahads, and that certain types of Americanism, if encouraged and perpetuated, are likely to impair the value and force of our civilization. But having dispelled the hallucination that we are uniformly irreproachable, I would remind you that, in order to be a good American, it is even more necessary for you to appreciate the fine traits of your countrymen than to be keenly alive to their shortcomings. There are two ways of looking at any community, as there are two ways of looking at life. The same landscape may appear to the same gaze brilliant, inspiring, and interesting, or flat, homely, and unsuggestive, according as the eye of the onlooker be healthy or jaundiced. It is easy to fix one's attention on the vulgar and heartless ostentation of the rich, on the cheapness and venality of some of our legislators, on the evidences of hypocrisy and false hero-worship, materialism, and superficiality of a portion of our population, and in doing so to forget and overlook the efficacy and finer manifestations of the people whose lives are the force and bulwark of the state. It is easy to go through the streets of a large city and note only the noise and smoke and stir, coarse circumstance and coarser crime, neglecting to remember that beneath this kernel of hard, real life the human heart is beating high and warm with the hopes and desires of the spirit. It is not necessary for a human being, it is essentially not necessary for an American, to look at life from the point of view of what the eye beholds in the hours of soul-torpor. True is it that Americanism stands to-day as almost synonymous with the struggle of democracy, and that the equal development of the life of the whole people for the common good is what most deeply concerns us; but this does not mean that it is right or American to adhere to what is ordinary and low, because it is still inevitable that the ideals and standards of the mass should not be those of the finest spirits. It was an American who bade you hitch your wagon to a star, and you have only to reflect in order to recall the spiritual vigor, the righteous force of will, the strength of aspiring mind, the patriotic courage, the tireless soul-struggle of the early generations of choicely educated, simply nurtured Americans. Their thought and conscience, true and star-seeking even in its limitations, laid the foundations of law and order, of civic liberty and private welfare, of national honor and domestic repute. Their enterprise and perseverance, their grit and suppleness of intelligence wrested our broad Western acreage from the savage and—

(Note.—I was here interrupted in the fervor of this genuine peroration by my wife Josephine's exclamation, "Oh, how atrociously they abused and persecuted those poor Indians, shunting them off from reservation to reservation, cheating them out of their lands and furs!"

It is not agreeable to be held up in this highwayman fashion when one is warming to a subject, but there is a melancholy truth in Josephine's statement which cannot be utterly contradicted. Still this is what I said to her: "My dear, I had hoped you understood that I had referred sufficiently to our national delinquencies, and that I was trying to depict to my correspondent the other side of the case. However just and appropriate your criticism might be under other circumstances, I can only regard it now as misplaced and unfortunate." I spoke with appropriate dignity. "Hoity, toity, toity me!" she responded. "I won't say another word.")

—wrested our broad Western acreage from the savage, and in less than half a century transformed it into a thriving, bustling, forceful civilization. Their ingenuity, their restless spirit of inquiry, their practical skill, their impatience of delay and love of swift decisive action have built countless monuments in huge new cities in the twinkling of an eye, in the marvellous useful inventions which have revolutionized the methods of  the world, the cotton-gin, the steamboat, the telegraph, the telephone, the palace-car—in the eager response made to the call of patriotism when danger threatened the existence of their country, and in the strong, original, clear-thinking, shrewdly acting, quaint personalities which have sprung from time to time from the very soil, as it were, in full mental panoply like the warriors of the Cadmean seed. Their stern sense of responsibility, their earnest desire for self-improvement, their ambitious zeal to acquire and to diffuse knowledge have founded, fostered, and supported the system of public schools and well-organized colleges which exist to-day in almost every portion of the country. The possessors of these qualities were Americans—the best Americans. Their plan of life was neither cheap nor shallow, but steadfast, aspiring, strong, and patient. From small beginnings, by industry and fortitude, they fought their way to success, and produced the powerful and vital nation whose career the world is watching with an interest born of the knowledge that it is humanity's latest and most important experiment. The development of the democratic principle is at the root of Americanism, but whoever, out of deference to what may be called practical considerations, abates one jot the fervor of his or her desire to escape from the commonplace, or who, in other words, forsakes his ideals and is content with a lower aim and a lower outlook, in order to suit the average temper, is false to his birthright and to the best Americanism.

It has been one of the grievances of those whose material surroundings have been more favorable and who have possessed more ostensible social refinement than the mass of the population, that they were regarded askance and excluded from public service and influence. There used to be some foundation for this charge, but the counter plea of the complainants of lack of sympathy and distrust of country was still more true, and an explanation and, in a large measure, a justification of the prejudice. True strength and refinement of character has always in the end commanded the respect and admiration of our people, but they have been roughly suspicious of any class isolation or assumption of superiority. It has been difficult accordingly for that type of Americans who arrogated tacitly, but nevertheless plainly, the prerogatives of social importance, to take an active part in the responsibilities of citizenship. They have been mistrusted, and sneered at, and not always unjustly, for they have been prone to belittle our national institutions and to make sport of the social idiosyncrasies of their unconventional countrymen for the entertainment of foreigners. And yet the people have never failed to recognize and to reverence the fine emanations of the spirit as evidenced by our poets, historians, thinkers, or statesmen. Our forceful humanitarian and ethical movements, our most earnest reforms found their most zealous and untiring supporters among the rank and file of the people. Abraham Lincoln was understood last of all by the social aristocracy of the nation. Emerson's inspiration found an answering chord in every country town in New England. True it is that on the surface the popular judgment may often seem superficial and cheap in tone, but the wise American is chary of accepting surface ebullitions as the real index of the public judgment. He understands that mixed in with the unthinking and the degenerate is a rank and file majority of sober, self-respecting men and women, whose instincts are both earnest and original, and who are to be depended on in every serious emergency to think and act on the side of civilizing progress. It is the inability to appreciate this which breeds our civic censors, who are led by their lack of perspective to underestimate the character of the people and to foretell the ultimate failure of our experiment.

The increase of wealth and a wider familiarity with luxury and comfort through the country has made a considerable and more important class of those whose material and social surroundings are exceptional. The participation of the citizens of this class in the affairs of government is no longer discouraged—on the contrary, it is welcomed by the community. Indeed, many men have secured nomination and election to office solely because of their large means, which enabled them to control men and caucuses in their own favor.

(Note.—An appearance of spontaneity is preserved in these cases by the publication of a letter from leading citizens  requesting the candidate to stand for office. He thereupon yields to the overwhelming invitation of the voters of the district, and his henchmen do the rest.)

But though the possession of wealth and social sophistication are no longer regarded as un-American, the public sentiment against open or tacit assumption of social superiority, or a lack of sympathy with democratic principles, is as strong as ever. It is incumbent, therefore, on you, if you would be an American in the best sense, to fix your ideal of life high, and at the same time to fix it in sympathy with the underlying American principle of a broad and progressive common humanity, free from caste or discriminating social conventions. It is not necessary for you to accept the standards and adopt the behavior of the superficial and imperfectly educated, but it is indispensable that you accept and act on the faith that your fellow-man is your brother, and that the attainment of a freer and more equal enjoyment of the privileges of life is essential to true human progress. We have, as I have intimated, passed through the pioneer stage of national development; we have tilled our fields, opened our mines, built our railroads, established our large cities—in short, have laid the foundations of a new and masterful civilization; it now remains for us to show whether we are capable of treating with originality the old problems which confront complex societies, and of solving them for the welfare of the public and the consequent elevation of individual character.

The originality and clearness of the American point of view has always been a salient national characteristic. Hitherto its favorite scope has been commercial and utilitarian. Yankee notions have been suggestive of sewing-machines, reapers, and labor-saving contrivances, or the mechanism of rushing trade. Now that we have caught up with the rest of the world in material progress and taught it many tricks, it remains for the true American to demonstrate equal sagacity and clear-headedness in dealing with subtler conditions. To be sure the scope of our originality has not been entirely directed to things material, for we have ever asserted with some vehemence our devotion to the things of the spirit, squinting longingly at them even when obliged to deplore only a passing acquaintance with them because of lack of time. The splendid superficiality of the army of youth of both sexes in the department of intellectual and artistic exertion, which has been one of the notable features of the last thirty years, has shown clearly enough the true temper and fibre of our people. To regard this superficiality as more than a transient symptom, and thereby to lose sight of the genuine intensity of nature which has animated it, would indicate the shallow observer. Our youth has been audacious, self-confident, and lacking in thoroughness because of its zeal to assert and distinguish itself, and thus has justly, in one sense, incurred the accusation of being superficial, but it has incurred this partially because of its disposition to maintain the privileges of individual judgments.

Our young men and women have been blamed for their lack of reverence and their readiness to form conclusions without adequate knowledge or study in the teeth of venerable opinion and convention. Indisputably they have erred in this respect, but indisputably also the fault is now recognized, and is being cured in the curriculum of education. Yet, evil as the fault is, the traits which seem to have nourished it—unwillingness to accept tradition and a searching, honest clearness of vision—are virtues of the first water, and typical of the best national character. There are many persons of education and refinement in our society who accept as satisfactory and indisputable the old forms and symbols which illustrate the experience, and have become the final word of the older civilizations in ethics, politics, and art. They would be willing that we should become a mere complement to the most highly civilized nations of Europe, and they welcome every evidence that we are becoming so. As I have already suggested to you, the nations of the world are all nearer akin in thought and impulse than formerly, but if our civilization is to stand for anything, it must be by our divergence from the conclusions of the past when they fail to pass the test of honest scrutiny, not by tame imitation. Profoundly necessary as it is that we should accept with reverence the truths of experience, and much as our students and citizens may learn from the wisdom and performance of older peoples, it behooves the  American to prize and cherish his birthright of independent judgment and freedom from servile adherence to convention. Almost everything that has been truly vital in our production has borne the stamp of this birthright.

The American citizen of the finest type is essentially a man or woman of simple character, and the effect of our institutions and mode of thought, when rightly appreciated, is to produce simplicity. The American is free from the glamour or prejudice which results from the conscious or unconscious influence of the lay figures of the old political, social, or religious world, from the glamour of royalty and vested caste, of an established or dominant church, of aristocratic, monkish, or military privilege. He is neither impelled nor allured to subject the liberty of conscience or opinion to the conventions appurtenant to these former forces of society. For him the law of the state, in the making of which he has a voice, and the authority of his own judgment are the only arbiters of his conduct. He accords neither to fineness of race nor force of intellect the right of aristocratic exclusiveness which they have too often hitherto claimed. To the cloistered nun he devotes no special reverence; he sees in the haughty and condescending fine gentleman an object for the exercise of his humor, not of servility; he is indifferent to the claim of all who by reason of self-congratulation or ancient custom arrogate to themselves special privileges on earth, or special privileges in heaven. This temper of mind, when unalloyed by shallow conceit, begets a quiet self-respect and simple honesty of judgment, eminently serviceable in the struggle to live wisely.

To the best citizens of every nation the most interesting and vital of all questions is what we are here for, what men and women are seeking to accomplish, what is to be the future of human development. For Americans of the best type, those who have learned to be reverent without losing their independence and without sacrifice of originality, the problem of living is simplified through the elimination of the influence of these symbols and conventions. Their outlook is not confused or deluded by the specious dogmas of caste. They perceive that the attainment of the welfare and happiness of the inhabitants of earth is the purpose of human struggle, and that the free choice and will of the majority as to what is best for humanity as a whole is to be the determining force of the future. To those who argue that the majority must always be wrong, and that as a corollary the will of the cheap man will prevail, this drift of society is depressing. The good American in the first place, recognizing the inevitability of this drift, declines to be depressed; and in the second, without subscribing to the doctrine that the majority must be wrong, exercises the privilege of his own independent judgment, subject only to the statute law and his conscience.

There is a noble strength of position in this; there is a danger, too, in that it suggests a lack of definiteness of standard. Yet this want of precision is preferable to the tyranny of hard and fast prescription. It is clear, for instance, that if the men and women of civilization are determined to modify their divorce laws so as to allow the annulment of marriage when either party is weary of the compact, no canon or anathema of the church will restrain them. Nor, on the other hand, will the mere whim or volition of an easy-going majority force them to do so. The judgment of men and women untrammelled by precedent and tradition and seeking simply to ascertain what is best and wisest for all will settle the question. Though the majority will be the force that puts any law into effect, the impulse must inevitably come from the higher wisdom of the few, and that higher wisdom in America works in the interest of a broad humanity, free from the delusions of outworn culture. The wisdom of the few may not seem to guide, but in the end the mass listens to true counsel. Honesty toward self and toward one's fellow-man, without fear or favor, is the leavening force of the finest Americanism, and, if persevered in, will lead the many, sooner or later, with a compelling power far beyond that of thrones and hierarchies. The wise application of this doctrine of the search for the common good in the highest terms of earthly condition to the whole range of economic, social, and political questions is what demands to-day the interest and attention of earnest Americans. The problems relating to capital and labor, to the restraint of the money power, to the government of our cities, to  the education of all classes, to the status of divorce, to the treatment of paupers and criminals, to the wise control of the sale of liquor, to equitable taxation, and to a variety of kindred matters are ripe for the scrutiny of independent, sagacious thought and action. To the consideration of these subjects the best national intelligence is beginning to turn with a fresh vigor and efficiency, but none too soon. Though democracy and Americanism have become largely identical, the spread of the creed of a broader humanity in the countries of civilization where autocratic forms of government still obtain, has been so signal and productive of results that the American may well ask himself or herself if our people have not been slovenly and vain-glorious along the paths where it seemed to be their prerogative to lead. Certainly in the matter of many of the civic and humanitarian problems which I have cited, we may fitly borrow from the recent and modern methods of those to whom we are apt to refer, in terms of condescending pity, as the effete dynasties of Europe. They have in some instances been more prompt than we to recognize the trend of ours and the world's new faith.

IV

In this same connection I suggest to you that in the domain of literary art an Englishman—a colonist, it is true, and so a little nearer allied to us in democratic sentiment—has more clearly and forcibly than anyone else expressed the spirit of the best Americanism—of the best world-temper of to-day. I refer to Rudyard Kipling. Human society has been fascinated by the virility and uncompromising force of his writings, but it has found an equal fascination in the deep, simple, sham-detesting sympathy with common humanity which permeates them. He has been the first to adopt and exalt the idea of the brotherhood of man without either condescension or depressing materialistic realism. He has interpreted the poetry of "the trivial round and common task" without suggesting impending soup, blankets, and coals on earth and reward in heaven on the one hand, or without emphasizing the dirtiness of the workman's blouse on the other. His imagery, his symbols and his point of view are essentially alien to those of social convention and caste. Yet his heroes of the engine-room, the telegraph-station, the Newfoundland Banks, and the dreary ends of the earth, democratic though they are to the core, appeal to the imagination by their stimulating human qualities no less than the bearers of titles and the aristocratic monopolists of culture and aspiration who have been the leading figures in the poetry and fiction of the past. Strength, courage, truth, simplicity and loving-kindness are still their salient qualities—the qualities of noble manhood—he expounds them to us by the force of his sympathy, which clothes them with no impossible virtues, yet shows them, in the white light of performance, men no less entitled to our admiration than the Knights of King Arthur or any of the other superhuman figures of traditional ęsthetic culture. He recognizes the artistic value of the workaday life in law courts and hospitals and libraries and mines and factories and camps and lighthouses and ocean steamers and railroad trains, as a stimulus to and rectifier of poetic imagination, negativing the theory that men and women are to seek inspiration solely from what is dainty, exclusive, elegantly romantic, or rhapsodically star-gazing in human conditions and thought. This is of the essence of the American idea, which has been, however, slow to subdue imagination, which is the very electric current of art, to its use by reason chiefly of the seeming discord between it and common life, and partly from the reluctance of the world to renounce its diet of highly colored court, heaven and fairy-land imagery; partly, too, because so many of the best poets and writers of America have adopted traditional symbols. The school of great New England writers which has just passed away were, however, the exponents of the simple life, of high religious and intellectual thought amid common circumstance. They stood for noble ideals as the privilege of all. Yet their mental attitude, though scornful of pomp and materialism, was almost aristocratic; at least it was exclusive in that it was not wholly human, savoring rather of the ascetic star-gazer than the full-blooded appreciator of the boon of life. Their passion was pure as snow, but it was thin. Yet the central tenet  of their philosophy, independent naturalness of soul, is the necessary complement to the broad human sympathy which is of the essence of modern art. The difficulty which imagination finds in expressing itself in the new terms is natural enough, for the poet and painter and musician are seemingly deprived of color, the color which we associate with mystic elegance and aristocratic prestige. Yet only seemingly. Externals may have lost the dignity and lustre of prerogative; but the essentials for color remain—the human soul in all its fervor—the striving world in all its joy and suffering. There is no fear that the tide of existence will be less intense or that the mind of man will degenerate in ęsthetic appreciation, but it must be on new lines which only a master imbued with the value and the pathos of the highest life in the common life as a source for heroism can fitly indicate. There lies the future field for the poet, the novelist, and the painter—the idealization of the real world as it is in its highest terms of love and passion, struggle, joy, and sorrow, free from the condescension of superior castes and the mystification of the star-reaching introspective culture which seeks only personal exaltation, and excludes sympathy with the every-day beings and things of earth from its so-called spiritual outlook.